PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) Nathan Karns is off to a nice start in his bid to win the fifth spot in Tampa Bay's pitching rotation.
The 27-year-old prospect worked two scoreless innings Thursday in a 3-2 loss to a Baltimore split squad that spoiled the Rays' spring debut under rookie manager Kevin Cash.
With lefty Matt Moore still recovering from elbow surgery, Karns and three other right-handers are the likely candidates to fill one opening in a rotation that expects to be among the strongest in the AL. Burch Smith and Matt Andriese are scheduled to pitch Friday, while Alex Colome has yet to report to spring training because of visa issues.
Cash liked what he saw from Karns, who allowed one hit and a walk, but has said he will not make a hasty decision on the No. 5 starter. He stressed Thursday that Colome is in the mix, even though he remains in the Dominican Republic.
''Colome's getting his work in. We know that. We've gotten communication on that,'' Cash said. ''We'd like to have him here, but I don't think it's fair to punish a guy for being held up. He's still very much a factor.''
Michael Almanzar snapped a ninth-inning tie with a solo homer and Mike Yastrzemski's sacrifice fly gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead. Rey Navarro's RBI single in the eighth wiped out a 1-0 lead the Rays took on Joey Butler's run-scoring double.
At 37, Cash is the youngest manager in the major leagues, taking over for Joe Maddon, who opted out of the final year of his contract before signing with the Chicago Cubs.
''The first day of spring in any capacity is exciting,'' Cash said, adding that the day went ''kind of as anticipated.''
As made the walk down the right field line from the Rays clubhouse to the dugout, he tried to locate the area in the stands where family members are seated, hoping to spot his mother and father.
''I didn't find them until right before the first pitch,'' Cash said.
Wei-Yin Chen allowed one hit and struck out one in two scoreless innings for the Orioles.
''Good starting point,'' Baltimore manager Buck Sholwalter said. ''He was sharp.''
Almanzar homered off left-hander Robert Zarate (0-1). Butler finished 2 for 2 for the Rays, adding a solo homer in the ninth.
Orioles: Chen went 16-6 with a 3.54 ERA in 31 starts last season, posting career best for wins and lowest ERA. He said he primarily threw fast balls on Thursday, but also worked on his changeup. ''Overall, I think the result was pretty good,'' Chen said.
Rays: Karns is the second oldest of 11 starting pitchers on Tampa Bay's roster. He got his first major league win in the first of two starts he made last September at Toronto. He's regarded as one of the top two pitching prospects in the Rays system, along with Colome.
UNDER THE RADAR
Cash, who played briefly for Tampa Bay in 2005 and spent the past two seasons as Cleveland's bullpen coach, joked that he was able to make the walk from the clubhouse to dugout with attracting much attention from fans.
''I don't think there were many people who knew me, so I wasn't getting autograph calls,'' the manager said. ''I just walked by and disguised myself, really.''
Mark Hendrickson, who last pitched in the majors in 2011, worked one inning and yielded one run on two hits. The 40-year-old lefty, who spent three seasons with the Orioles from 2009-2011, struck out two.
Orioles: Right-hander Mike Wright gets the start Friday against Toronto in Sarasota. R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison and Brett Cecil and among the pitchers scheduled to throw for the Blue Jays.
Rays: Jake Odorizzi, who's expected to be the No. 4 starter, works against the Minnesota Twins. Andriese, Smith and Ernesto Frieri are expected to pitch, too.